Our Notes & References
First edition of the celebrated futurist poet’s travel account to the New World, illustrated with photographs and with Rodchenko’s constructivist wrappers.
The leading poet of Revolutionary Russia Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893-1930) attempted to get to the States three times since 1923: twice his visa was rejected and the third time he managed to obtain a visa to Mexico first. He arrived in Mexico City in July 1925 and was warmly welcomed both by representatives of the Soviet embassy and by the Mexican public, led by the artist Diego Riveira. There he finally received an entry visa to the United States. Arriving at the border and not being able to speak English, he could not explain to the border guard the purpose of his entry and thus ended up at the police station: “They came and asked which language I was going to speak. Out of shyness (it’s embarrassing to not know any language), I said French […] I am familiar with simple French conversations about tea and buns, but I did not understand a word the French translator said to me […] While I was absorbing, the Frenchman guessed that I did not understand anything, the Americans waved their hands and took me back.” (our translation here and below) Eventually, the policemen found a Russian Jewish interpreter who helped Mayakovsky out and the poet was allowed into the country for six months as a tourist on $500 bail.
Arriving in his destination, Mayakovsky was “dumbfounded by New York emerging from the ocean with its contrived construction and machinery”. He was also struck with the amount of cars on the streets and by the habit of New Yorkers to dine by candlelight: “how is that possible in a city shimmering with thousands of electric lights?”. There he also had a momentous encounter with poet David Burliuk, who created illustrations for a collection of poetry which Mayakovsky published as Otkrytie Ameriki [Discovery of America], in New York in 1925 – while he was still travelling through the country.
After New York, Mayakovsky visited Detroit (and the Ford factory), Chicago, Cleveland, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Chicago was perhaps his favourite: “If you put all American cities in a bag, shake out the houses like bingo numbers, then the mayors themselves won’t be able to seize their former possessions. But there is Chicago, and Chicago is different from all the other cities – different not in houses or people but in its special Chicago-style energy. In New York, a lot of things are for decoration, for show. Chicago lives without bragging. Chicago is not ashamed of its factories […] and McCormick exhibits its agricultural machinery factories more centrally, even more proudly than Paris shows its Notre Dame”.
Despite being captivated with some sides of the States, he also highlighted a few of their most problematic aspects to his opinion, such as workers’ rights and excessive manifestations of capitalism that eventually reflected the official anti-American Communist propaganda at the time.
Lasting 6 months in total, this was to be Mayakovsky’s longest trip abroad. He published his account shortly after his return to Russia and structured it into three chapters: Mexico, New York and America. Illustrated with photographs of the visited sights and of Mayakovsky during the trip, the book had its constructivist red and black cover designed by the poet’s long-time collaborator Aleksandr Rodchenko.
Hellyer 325; The Russian Avant-Garde Book 656.
Puteshestvie Mayakovskogo v Ameriku. Diletant project (online).
Maiyakovsky ot A do Ya. Arzamas academy (online)